Frustrated Huskies running out of time to take the ‘next step’
A messy, unsettling week culminated in another messy, unsettling defeat — their third straight at home, their seventh in a row against a ranked team.
Seattle Times columnist
Chris Petersen had said it would take a “really good, clean game” for the Huskies to forge the elusive breakthrough victory they have been seeking with increasing urgency.
Instead, a messy, unsettling week culminated in another messy, unsettling defeat — their third straight at home, their seventh in a row against a ranked team. Validation will have to wait for another Saturday.
Instead, a visibly frustrated Petersen apologized to Husky fans for another slow, debilitating start that thwarted their upset bid virtually from the start.
“UCLA is good, and they’re going to bring their ‘A’ game,’’ he said. “We certainly did not bring ours. Once we got embarrassed a little bit there, we got to the locker room, kind of adjusted ourselves a little bit, and we can do some things.”
The Huskies fell down 10 at Colorado last week, but they overcame that against an inferior team. Against a quality UCLA squad, the early 14-0 deficit proved decisive.
Quarterback Cyler Miles noted the Huskies need to “come out fast with our hair on fire just like we play when we’re down. We have to play the whole game with that juice like we do when we’re down.”
Miles vowed it would be different next week, but it seems a little late in the season to be figuring out how to maximize effort. Against a team like UCLA, it should have been self-evident — and the Huskies’ inability to summon emotion from the get-go made the result inevitable.
Were the Huskies still reeling from the midweek dismissal of star cornerback Marcus Peters? They claimed no, but you can’t have such an impactful and disruptive move without it weighing heavily on impressionable minds, as Petersen seemed to allude.
“Those things are hard, you know,’’ Petersen said. “This game is hard, and there’s always drama in these kids’ lives anyway. That’s certainly something that doesn’t help us, without question. Those are always really hard things, like I said. Those aren’t just words. They really are hard. Hard on everybody.
“We just have to be strong as we move forward. We’ve got to compete. We’ve got to play because we like to play the game. We have to have fun with this thing. We can’t make it life or death for these guys because it turns into not a lot of fun.”
That tricky nexus of fun and urgency is one many fine lines the Huskies are trying to walk these days. They are also trying to figure out how much they can play Shaq Thompson on offense without crippling their defense, and how much they can play John Ross on defense without hampering their offense.
Take out another dynamic player in Hau’oli Kikaha, as happened in the first series because of a shoulder injury, and the Huskies were climbing uphill virtually the entire game.
“Certainly, when you take Shaq out of the mix and Hau’oli out of the mix, those are a lot of playmakers on one side of the ball,’’ Petersen said. “All that makes it tough sledding to overcome.”
It would have taken a perfect game to beat the talented Bruins, but the Huskies were far from that. They missed tackles that would have ended drives, and failed to scoop up loose balls that would have changed momentum. There was a potential pick-six that instead was tipped right into the UCLA receivers’ hands — the sort of game-changing play that has to be their ticket to an upset.
While Thompson was his usual dynamic self running the ball, Petersen aptly summed up the Huskies’ faltering passing attack.
“It’s painful, no doubt about it,’’ he said. “It’s not any one guy, it’s really not. It’s got to start with us as coaches and everyone involved. It’s hard. We can run the ball fairly effectively, but we have to be able to throw more effectively to give us some balance and take some pressure off the run game.”
The slow start was baffling to offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith.
“We’re not changing anything in the third and fourth series,’’ he said. “It’s definitely something where we have to get off on a better foot. We are a little bit of a rhythm offense. When we’re in rhythm, I think we look halfway decent. But you can tell when we’re not in rhythm. We’re going to look at that.’’
Again, it’s getting dangerously late for the Huskies, who have just one more ranked opponent on their schedule — next week at Arizona. It will be their last chance to show they can do more than hold serve, that they can take the proverbial “next step.” The Huskies’ last win against a ranked team came in last year’s opener, when they crushed Petersen’s Boise State team 38-6 in the unveiling of new Husky Stadium.
There was a lot of passion in the stadium that night, and there was, for a bit, on Saturday, particularly when the Huskies cut the 14-0 deficit to 14-10. But every Washington charge was turned back by UCLA, and the atmosphere deadened in the second half.
“I’m really, really frustrated,’’ Petersen said. “I really appreciate our fans. We can feel their passion. You’d think we’d be able to play closer and a little better at our stadium.”
But the search for the good, clean game against a good, strong team continues.
About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives his take on the local and national sports scene.